A Matter of Perspective , available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

A Matter of Perspective


July 11, 2011

I think the older we get the more we realize that life is not entirely black and white.  In fact we are faced with a whole lot of grey situations.

Case in point: our recent Fourth of July family vacation.  A whole lot went wrong, but there sure were a lot of opportunities to look for what was going right.  Here are two ways of looking at each of our “unique opportunities.”

Perspective one: Smashing two totally different experiences (beach getaway and camping trip) into one outing is not a good idea.  Packing a family of five for BOTH a camping trip AND a beach vacation significantly pushes the limits of what our vehicle can comfortably accommodate.  There was no room to play with.  Also, when we were at the campsite we were annoyed by the beach toys we had packed; and when we were at the timeshare we were frustrated with the tents and sleeping bags that we no longer needed.

Perspective two: A coworker generously offered us two nights for our family at a timeshare on the Washington State coast.  We took the opportunity to tag on an extra night camping in a national forest we had been wanting to see.  We got to enjoy some of the great outdoors and then have two nights of a little luxury.

Perspective one: We went camping, had a microscopic campsite and it rained all night.

Perspective two: Even though we arrived at our campsite later in the evening, there was plenty of light and time to set up camp and take a walk on the nearby beach.  Oscar built one of the best campfires I have ever seen (and it may have been the very first time he has even tried).  I made two of the best s’mores I have ever eaten.  We all got ready for bed, snuggled in and zipped up before the rain started.  We were dry all night in our tents and the rain stopped in time for breakfast in the morning.

Perspective one: A deer tried to take out our car, leaving an enormous dent in the rear passenger door.

Perspective two: As we were entering a sleepy Washington coast town we got to see a little wild life up close and personally.  Unexpectedly, an otherwise docile deer walking along the side of the road, suddenly decided to try to jump through Simon’s door (we think it must have wanted his goldfish crackers).  It was pretty funny until we saw the damage when we got to the grocery store.  Then it was funny again after we took a toilet plunger to the dent and actually pulled almost the whole thing out.  Now THAT is a memory maker!

Perspective one: This is an icky tourist trap of a town with really dirty beaches, really bad traffic control, and far too much wind to be comfortable even when it is clear and sunny.

Perspective two: Our room is full of amazing luxuries, it is sunnier than it has been all summer, and our coworker and her family welcomed us with dinner and passes to the local heated pool.

Perspective one: Some vacation.  We are uncomfortable and fairly far from home.

Perspective two: We have great adventures together as a family even when we are uncomfortable and fairly far from home. Nothing says we have to stay in a less than ideal situation.  Let’s go home.

So that’s what we did.  We left a night early and got to see close to ten different fireworks shows as we drove through towns on the interstate.  It was magical.  At least from my perspective.  And sometimes that is all it takes in family life.  Same objective reality but a little shift in mindset and “profane” turns into “sacred.”

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Anger and Sadness Turned Inside Out

Anger and Sadness Turned Inside Out

One of our favorite summer family activities—or anytime activities, really—is going to the movies. Because they have such consistently good storytelling, we rarely miss a new Pixar movie—they never fail to give both parents and kids something to think and smile about.

So, we went to see Inside Out as a family during its opening weekend, and were not disappointed. It is an interesting story (if a bit far-fetched) and led to some interesting conversation in the car ride home. It won’t spoil things to share some of the fruit of our discussion.

The idea behind the film is to personify the emotions inside our brains. Everyone has five core emotions: joy, anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. In the movie, these emotions look like fuzzy muppets pushing buttons on a control panel inside our brains, which drives our behavior.

It is never explicitly pointed out in the film, but our family noticed that for every human character, one emotion is in charge. All emotions have their say, and their own moments to shine, but it is clear that in every brain there is one emotion that calls the shots and has authority.

The main human protagonist is an 11-year-old girl named Riley, and Joy is her defining emotion. Riley plays hockey and loves to be goofy and has a loving family. The story revolves around the family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, which threatens Riley’s joie-de-vivre.

I was surprised to see the emotions the writers placed in charge of the mother and the father in the film. The mother was driven by Sadness, and the father by Anger. Their interplay is captured in a brilliant scene that is used in the film’s trailer—very insightful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRUAzGQ3nSY

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how nuanced the writers had been—these emotions do make sense in my experience of parenting. For a mother to be driven by Sadness does not mean that she is depressed or always mopey. It means that her first, instinctive response to situations comes from compassion. That word, compassion, literally means “suffering with,” and Sadness is the emotion that capacitates us for suffering with others. I’ve seen Stacey shine in responding to our kids by first stepping into their shoes to feel with them whatever pain they might be experiencing. I’m not incapable of compassion—it is just that I’ve seen it more consistently and instinctively from Stacey.

Likewise, for a father to be driven by Anger does not mean that he is abusive or violent. It means that his first, instinctive response to situations comes from action. Whenever Anger is involved in the film, things happen—Anger catalyzes action. Again, I’m not saying that Stacey is not a capable person—there is not much that could be farther from the truth. It is just that I’ve noticed that my first, gut-level response to a situation often comes from a motivation to do something about it.

Healthy adult living requires a balance in emotions—as in all things. I don’t think it is a disadvantage or denigration to see myself in the Anger-driven father. That same emotion helps me respond quickly to threats to the safety and well-being of the family—from attacking the poison ivy springing up in the back corner of the yard to advocating for our children at school.

I am grateful, however, to have a partner who has a different emotion in charge. While our differences sometimes produce friction, they also enrich our family. One of the graces of the Sacrament of Marriage is the harmony produced by complementary gifts—it is one of the ways we have found God providing for our family.

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